Before the first Europeans arrived in Michigan, several Native American tribes populated the area, including the Ottawa (Odawa). French explorers arrived in the 17th century to trap, hunt, and convert the Native Americans. The county is named for Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit missionary, historian, explorer, and spy, who was sent by the French king to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific in 1720.
In 1763, after losing the Seven Years’ War, France ceded the area to the British. Michigan became part of Quebec in 1774, and was ceded to the United States in 1783 following the Revolutionary War. It became part of the Northwest Territory in 1787, part of the Indiana Territory in 1800, and finally the Michigan Territory in 1805.
British forces were allied with the Ottawa and other tribes against the United States during the War of 1812. As a result, in 1836, representatives of the Ottawa and Chippewa nations were forced to cede their lands in the Michilimackinac area to the U.S. in the Treaty of Washington. The area was now open to white settlement, and the next year, Michigan became a state.
In 1840 Michilimackinac was broken into several regions. Today’s Charlevoix County was part of the region called Keskkauko, renamed Charlevoix in 1843.
In 1847 the controversial James Strang led a group of Mormons from New York to establish the first white settlement in Charlevoix County on Beaver Island, and proclaimed himself king. Pine River, later named Charlevoix, was settled by several Mormon families who left Beaver Island in 1854 before Strang’s assassination in 1856. Boyne City was founded by John Miller in 1855, and East Jordan in 1874.
In 1869, Charlevoix County was created from portions of Emmet and Antrim Counties. The county seat was moved from East Jordan to Boyne City in 1886, and following the destruction of the courthouse by fire, it was moved temporarily to Charlevoix, and then finally to Charlevoix in 1897.